Theodore Sedgwick.

A memoir of the life of William Livingston : member of Congress in 1774, 1775, and 1776 : delegate to the federal convention in 1787, and governor of the state of New-Jersey from 1776 to 1790 : with extracts from his correspondence, and notices of various members of his family online

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Online LibraryTheodore SedgwickA memoir of the life of William Livingston : member of Congress in 1774, 1775, and 1776 : delegate to the federal convention in 1787, and governor of the state of New-Jersey from 1776 to 1790 : with extracts from his correspondence, and notices of various members of his family → online text (page 10 of 27)
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" V. No member shall presume upon any pretence to introduce
any discourse about the party politics of the province, and to
persist in such discourse after being desired by the president to
drop it, on pain of expulsion."
This constitution is signed by

Benjamin Kissara, .Tohn Jay,

David Mathews, William Smith,

William Wickham, John Morine Scott,

Thomas Smith, James Duane,

Whitehead Hicks, John T. Kempe,

Rudolphus Ritzema, Robert R. Livingston, jr.

William Livingston, Egbert Benson,

Richard Morris, . Peter Van Schaack,

Samuel Jones, Stephen De Lancey.

On the 4ih of March, 1774, John Walts, jr., and Gouverneur
Morris were admitted to the society. The meetings do not appear
to have been regularly held, and the members of the Moot came
together for the last time on the 6th January, 1775.



WILLIAM LIVINGSTON. 153

angry warfare in defence of his civil and religious
rights, three times on every Sabbath, surrounded
by his numerous family, he went up to that church
formerly contemned and oppressed, but for which
his exertions had procured respect ; of which he
was one of the brightest ornaments and chief sup-
ports. These were not, it is true, the first fruits of
his heart and his intellect, laid upon the shrines of
country and religion. They were not the offspring
of enthusiasm, or the offering of youth." They
were the better gifts of a matured mind and an es-
tablished character. His daily labours found their
close and solace in the evening, passed in the soci-
ety of his friends, and in the amusement or instruc-
tion of his children. Fond of the social circle,
and the delight of that in which he moved, his
cheerful humour and lively wit gave an equal zest
to " Mother Brock's" club-room,* and to more
mixed festivities. If there be blemishes in this
portrait such as those to which I have already
alluded, is it unreasonable, while they are not con-
cealed, to throw them into the background ?

In his private hfe we can discern some of the
same traits which mark Mr. Livingston's pubhc
character. He always showed a dislike to the soci-
ety of the Enghsh officers, of whom there was gene-
rally a considerable number in New-York. This

* A club of gentlemen were accustomed to meet at a house at
the corner of Wall and New streets, kept by a Mrs. Brock,
more familiarly designated as in the text, whose husband, Walter
Brock, had no share of its honours.



l/il THE LIFK OF

was the more sur]>risino;, at least in the eyes of the
city belles, as these sous of Mars formed by far the
most brilliant ornaments of their fetes, and quite
threw the mohairs, as the native gallants were in-
vidiously termed, into the shade. He rarely ad-
mitted the former to the hosj)italities of his house,
and preferred to select his society from his own
townspeople.*

It should be mentioned that so late as the year
7760, Mr. Livingston was engaged in privateering
adventures. This is one of those inconsistencies
which the advance of civilization has done away.
Few persons now pretending to religious principle
would think themselves justified in lending any
countenance to a practice which so much enhances
the horrors of war, and which this country enjoys-
the honour of having attempted to put down.

* The only instance during his life in which Mr. Livingston
is said to have been guilty of the slightest excesses of the table,
although at that time a tolerably frequent repetition of them waff
not inconsistent with a fair character for sobriety, was at a din-
ner given at the Fort (the government-house), by Lord Dunmore.
His lordship, who was something of a wine-bibber himself (and
it is a pretty specimen of the manners of the day), laid a scheme
to entrap the discreet and staid burghers. By dint of goblets
double the ordinary size, repeated bumpers, and various other
tricks familiar to noble butlers, his design was effected ; not
a few of the whig champions, and Mr. Livingston among the
number, saw that night, in heaven and earih, more things thau
their philosophy had ever till then dreamed of.



WILLIAM LIVINGSTON. 155



CHAPTER V.

Mr. Livingston removes to Elizabethtovj^n, Nevr-Jersey, in 1772
— Controversy relating to the Treasurer — He is sent to
Congress in 1774 — His Share in the Proceedings of that Body.

Mr. Livingston appears, from an early period,
to have entertained the intention of retiring from
his profession to a country life. As early as 1760
he made purchase of a piece of land, containing
about eighty acres, in Elizabethtown, in the county
of Essex, in the then province of New-Jersey.
This, by subsequent additions, he increased to a
hundred and twenty acres, and occupied his leisure
in setting out upon it various species of fruit trees,
which like almost every article of colonial use, were
imported from England.* During the two or

* These trees were principally imported in 1767, '8, and '9.
On looking over his orders I am surprised to see how few of the
names are the same with those now in use. Of 65 pears, the
Beurrees, the Ambree, St. Germain, Bergamot, and Vergaloo
are alone to be recognised. Of plums, the proportion is some-
what greater, but a decided majority even of these is now so
obsolete, that I question whether even the Linnaeus of Flushing,
or of Liberty-street, would be able to recognise them. It is
pleasing, however, to notice, that perhaps the very best fruit
which our adjacent country boasts at the present day has a
venerable pedigree. In 1767 I find Mr. Livingston sending out
two barrels of Newtown pippins to a friend in England.



156 THE LIFE OF

three last years of liis rosidonce in New-York, he
seems to have frradiially contracted his profes-
sional biKsiness. and to the country in May, 1772,
he finally removed. He remained in the village
of Elizabethtown during the erection of a new
house upon his estate, until the fall of 1773; sub-
sequent to which, for the remainder of his life, this
country seat was at least his nominal home.* His
family urged him to bestow upon his new place
some distmguishing name, according to a fashion
introduced from the mother country ; but averse
to every thing of the kind, he refused to give it
any other appellation than " Liberty Hall," and by
this title it was often known to his more intimate
friends.

When Mr. Livingston left New-York for New-
Jersey he had passed the prime of life, but he pos-
sessed still an unbending spirit and an unbroken
constitution.

Dum nova canilies, dum prima et recta senectus
Nullo dextram subeunte bacillo,

he retired from active life to spend his declining
years in retirement, after having made sacrifices

* This building is still standing ; it is situated about a mile to
the north of the village of Elizabethtown, on the east of the Mor-
ristown road. It is at present in the possession of Mrs. Niem-
cewicz, a relative, though not a descendant of Gov. Livingston,
and the place bears the appellation of Ursino, in compliment
to a distinguished individual of a most distinguished and most
unfortunate people.



WILLIAM LIVINGSTON. 157

to the public as great as virtue could demand;
having established a high and dignified reputation,
not less of character than of talent, and purchased,
by the laborious and praiseworthy exertions of
thirty years, the right to tranquil indulgence of that
pure and simple kind most congenial to his tastes.

It is said that one of Mr. Livingston's principal
inducements to select Elizabethtown as the spot
of his future residence was the circumstance that
William Peartree Smith, and another of his friends
and fellows of Yale, resided there. If this be
so, it is a strong proof of the tenacity of his
friendships.

About the time that Mr. Livingston established
himself in New-Jersey, a young and unfriended
boy arrived in the country from the West Indies,
bringing letters, as I have been told, to him from
Hugh Knox.* The lad was put to the school of
Francis Barber, of Ehzabethtown. Both master
and pupil not long afterwards entered the Ameri-
can army. Of the former I believe little more is,
or need be known. The scholar was Alexander
Hamilton.

The only positive information as to the causes
of Mr. Livingston's departure from New-York, is
to be derived from the following touching memo-
randum, the original of which is written on the
back of a schedule of his property, evidently

* This person, a Presbyterian minister in North America, in
1754, was afterwards settled in the island of St. Croix. Vid.
Dr. Miller's Life of Rodgers.



l.'iS THE LIFE OF

drawn up some time later. " The sum at the foot
of this I was worth wlien I removed from New-
York to Now-Jersev. besides leaving upwards of
£2()()0 behind me, due to me for costs in the
province of New-York (besides the lands left me
by my father) ; and as I was always fond of a
country life, and thought that at that time I could
with justice to my dear children go into the
country, where the interest of that sum would
more than maintain me, I accordingly went with
the intention to lay up the surplus for their use ;
but so it has fortuned, by the breaking of some of
my debtors, and by others paying me in conti-
nental depreciated money, that 1 have not been
able to answer that agreeable object; and for
those unforeseen occurrences, 1 hope my children
will not blame me, having not spent my fortune
by extravagant living, but have * * by inevitable
accidents."

The property comprised in this statement is
£8512, which, in the currency of New- York,
amounts to a little more than twenty-one thousand
dollars.* This circumstance alone would be suffi-
cient to show the depreciation of the value of the
circulating medium, and the increase of comforts
and luxuries since that day.

The following extract from a letterf written by

• As the schedule contains only a list of bonds given to Mr.
Livingston before he left New-York, their value must be calcu-
lated according to the currency of that province.

t Dated 7th March, 1 774, but without address.



WILLIAM LIVINGSTON. ' 159

Mr. Livingston, would almost lead us to believe
that he retired from public hfe in despair of the at-
tainment of that civil and religious freedom for
which he had so long contended. The feeling, if
it was entertained, cannot be justified ; but such
distrust might at that time have found more ex-
cuse in the situation of New-York than in some
of the other colonies.* " From this sequestered
corner of the globe," he says, " you will not I pre-
sume, look for news. Our Assembly, according to
their humble abilities, and their lack of equal op-
portunities, with the most heroic emulation, make
proportionable blunders with yours. They have
however, at least one man of sense and pubhc
virtue among them, and of his sense and public
virtue the world has had the same proof which of
such characters it will never fail to have ; that he
is perpetually traduced and misrepresented in the
weekly papers. Ask Captain M'Dougall,t how
far a man ought to sacrifice his fortune and char-
acter in serving a country that will not be served,

* At a patriotic dinner given in Pennsylvania, in April, 1770, to
celebrate the repeal of the stamp-act, one of the toasts was,
" The Colonial Assemblies, except that of New- York." (Vid, Gaz.)

t Alexander M'Dougall, afterwards major-general, almost as
well known by his adopted title of a " son of liberty," imprisoned^
in 1770, by the New- York Assembly for a vehement invective
against their pusillanimous and time-serving course — one of
the most daring of the New- York patriots, before the revolution,
and an active and brave officer during the war. His papers are
in this city, and must contain valuable materials for history — why
is no use made of them ?



160 THE LIFE OF

and in opposing a majority which, notwithstanding
such opposition, will hv trium[)hant, or whether
there be any future crown for political, as there is
for religious niurtyrdoni."

The dispersion of Mr. Livingston's correspond-
ence renders it ditiicult to determine what were
his pursuits during the two years and a half
which elapsed between his removal to New-Jersey
and the assembling of the first Congress. In one
or two instances he appears to have resumed the
practice of his profession (he had been admitted
to practise in the courts of New-Jersey as early
as 1755); more, however, it seems, to oblige a
friend than as an avocation.

It is probable that he was mostly occupied with
putting in order his new buildings and grounds,
while at the same time it is reasonable to suppose
that he was intensely, it may be actively, interested
in the stirring contests which agitated the neigh-
bouring provinces ; and that from his retired posi-
tion, as from a watch tower, he looked out with an
attentive eye upon the storm which was slowly
approaching.

Before Mr. Livingston removed to New-Jersey, a
controversy had arisen there, which will be here
noticed at some length, as he was in a mea-
sure connected with it, and as it was, almost the
only difficulty that existed between the people of
that colony and the royal government prior to the
revolution.

In conformity with the original division of the



WILLIAM LIVINGSTON. 161

province into Eastern and Western New-Jersey,
which was not finally obliterated until it became a
state, a treasurer was, before the revolution, ap-
pointed for each district ; and from the crude state
of the commercial arrangements of that day, these
officers were compelled to keep under their per-
sonal care large sums, both of specie and of the
paper bills of credit. The public money chest of
Stephen Skinner, treasurer of the eastern division,
was broken open at his residence in Perth Amboy,
on the 22d July, 1768, and rifled of between six
and seven thousand pounds of paper and coin.*

In October, 1770, the matter was brought before
the Assembly, who, after a laborious investigation
of evidence, resolved that the robbery was owing
to the negligence of the eastern treasurer, and that
he was bound to account for the sum missing.
After a delay of two years, the House, in Septem-
ber, 1772, sent a communication to the governor
(William Franklin, the son of Dr. FrankUn), who
had the appointment of these officers, remon-
strating with him for taking no measures to settle
the affair.

The governor took fire at the complaint, and
replied in a captious tone, that nothing was as yet
proved against Skinner, and that the nature of the
desired remedy had not been specified. To this

* The treasury of New-Jersey was particularly unfortunate.
A similar accident happened in December, 1776, when Samuel
Tucker was in this department. Vid. Min. N. J. Assem. 17th
February, 1777,

X



162



THE LIFE OF



the Ilouso j)roinptlv if'idird. dcmanciing tlic dis-
missal of Skinner, as convicted l>y the evidence
laid before tliem of nci^lcct of duty. Fr.ankhn
answered, that he f«hoidd not remove the treasurer
until alter tlic termination ol'the action at law, or of
whatever other course the House mij^dit t;ike to de-
termine his liability. Upon this refusal, which was
couched in laniruafre little calculated to render it
more palatable, the Assembly resolved to take no
further steps in the matter, leaving the responsi-
bility of the loss to the pvdjlic upon the shoulders
of the governor; and to another message from
him, repeating the grounds of his decision, and
alleging that the Council were unanimously of
his opinion, the House returned for answer a re-
quest to be prorogued, which accordingly in the
latter part of the same month (September) was
granted.

The Assembly did not come together again till
in November, 1773, and during the recess sus-
picion of the robbery had fallen upon one Samuel
Ford. In a long and studied message, the gov-
ernor laid before the house all the testimony
tending to inculpate Ford, and very strenuously
insisted that his guilt was conclusively proved.
Here, however, he was equally unsuccessful in
commanding the concurrence of the Assembly ;
and indeed it seems immaterial who the actual
robber was, provided the loss was owing to the
negligence of the treasurer, unless we are to infer
from the pertinacity of the House, — what is no-



WILLIAM LIVINGSTON. 163

where asserted or even insinuated, — that he w^as
an accomphce in the transaction.

The House, apparently resolved not to lose
sight of him whom they considered the original
culprit, denied that the testimony proved the guilt
of Ford ; and reverting to the original question,
once more demanded the dismissal of the trea-
surer. It is to this stage of the controversy that
the following pasquinade of Mr. Livingston refers,
which I am the more tempted to insert as it has
never appeared in print.

" Governor. Gentlemen, the treasury has been
robbed.

" .Assembly. Many people, sir, are of that opinion.

« G. But Sam Ford has robbed it.

" ji. That is more than we know.

" G. But I have laid before you the proofs and
papers.

" ./^. The papers, .sir, we have received, but
the proofs we can't find.

" G. They contain striking circumstances.

" J. They don't strike us.

******

" G. But Sam Ford is a villain.

« ^. So he is.

" G. Then he has robbed the treasury.

" j1. Negatur consequentia.

******

"G. One of the witnesses has sworn that he
saw him, through a key-hole, cut the bills from the
sheets on which they were printed.



164 T»K LIFE OF

'•''A. The bills ill tlio treasury were not in
sheets.

" G. Tliat's an unlucky circumstance ; but he is
a villain, and therefore tin; worst must be supposed
against him.

"yi. The witnesses against him arc villains,
and therefore to be supposed to testify falsely.

" G. Then you won't believe that he has robbed
it.?

" A. We don't care who has robbed it.

" G. What then do you want }

" A. The money.

" G. From Avhom do you want it .'' — from Sam

" A. From the man with whom we intrusted it.
" G. Then demand it of him.
" A. We don't know how to set about it, unless
you turn him out."

The governor still refused to accede to the
demands of the House, maintaining, as it would
seem, for the purposes of delay, that the proper
course of proceeding against the treasurer was by
information, and not by suit at law, as was pro-
posed. To this the House were altogether ad-
verse, on the ground, as they allege in their answer
of the 19th February, 1771, that this form of prose-
cution would not allow of so impartial a scrutiny.
It should be noticed that the office of attorney-
general was at this time held by Cortland Skinner,
brother of the treasurer.



WILLIAM LIVINGSTON. 165

A case had been in the mean time drawn up by
the agents of the House, proposing three inquiries
connected with this question.

First. Whether the bond given by Skinner, for
the correct performance of the duties of his office,
was a vahd and legal instrument }

Second. Whether it could be put in suit in the
present case ? and

Third. If the inhabitants of New- Jersey were
sufficiently free from the imputation of interest, to
be jurors in an action against the treasurer }

On each of these three points Mr. Livingston, in
June 1773, dehvered his opinion in the affirmative.
Fortified by this, and as it appears by other similar
opinions, the House persevered in their resolution :
and at length in February, 1774, when wearied out
by the procrastination of Frankhn, they had re-
solved on a petition to the king. Skinner suddenly
resigned his office. Upon this, as if to insult the
Assembly, he was immediately called to the Coun-
cil. During the whole of this discussion, the con-
duct of Governor Franklin is that of a petulant,
arrogant, and unwise man, utterly destitute of the
prudence and self-possession which distinguished
his father, and altogether unfit for the government
of a people on the alert with regard to every ques-
tion touching their rights. In a matter like this, it
would seem that if there existed a genuine desire
on both sides to arrive at the conclusion dictated
by truth and justice, there could be no serious dif-
ference as to the means.



166 THE LIFK OF

Upon the resignation of tlie treasurer, an act
was iininodiatcly passed for the i)urpose of ohvi-
ating all diliiculties, cnahling John Smyth, the new
treasurer, to bring an action against Skinner for the
amount of which lie had been robbed. The action
was still pending in January, ITTri, and below that
period, I can find no notice of it. It is improbable
that any legal termination was ever put to it. The
revolution broke out ; the family of the Skinners
in a body joined the English — inter arma silent
leges — and such it seems was the termination of a
controversy which, involving no principle, and ap-
parently of trifling consequence, is still deserving
of notice, as having had a material tendency to
alienate the minds of the people of New-Jersey
from the royal government, and to prepare them
for acting in concert with the sister provinces.

We have now reached the lowering spring of
1774, when the inherited affection of the colonists
for the mother country was fast giving place to
distrust and resentment, and when the angry hum
of menace began to echo from either shore.
But the domestic circle performs its accustomed
revolutions, and the daily oflices and exchanges of
society, the marrying and the giving in marriage,
take place in spite of the convulsions of the political
world. In April of this year, the fourth daughter of
Mr. Livingston, Sarah Van Brugh, was married at
Elizabethtown, to John Jay, at this time only known
as a prominent member of the New-York bar, but
destined not lon^ij afterwards to connect his name



WILLIAM LIVINGSTON. 167

inseparably with the history of that half century,
which is perhaps the most eventfiil that the world
has known. Resembling- each other in more than
one particular, in their inflexible integrity, in their
superiority to all the low devices of ambition, and in
their marked religious character, the most cordial
friendship subsisted between Mr. Livingston and
his eminent son-in-law till the death of the former.
If Mr. Livingston retired to New-Jersey with the
intention of withdrawing himself from public life, the
error — for en-oneous that philosophy, or that prac-
tice must ever be considered which detaches our
sympathy from the pursuits, the welfare, the mis-
fortunes, and all the varied interests of our fellows
— the error was happily corrected by the course
of events. The waves of opinion rolled back
from their first unsuccessful dashing against the
bulwarks of power, only to return in their collected
might ; and gradually embracing in their universal
surge the intellect, the accomplishment, and the
virtue of the colonies, their course was for a
moment stayed, as if to exhibit their full strength,
and to demonstrate the futility of resistance. It
was at this moment, when those who had most
deprecated the approaching crisis felt it could
no longer be avoided, that Mr. Livingston, aban-
doning the long promised repose which he had
just begun to enjoy, throwing ofl" the sluggishness
of advancing years, once more set his hand to
the plough, and without casting a look behind,
entered upon that which was to prove the most



168 TMK LIFK OF

.arduous and the most lionoural>lc portion of his
public services.

Upon tlic arrival of tlic news of the passai^e of
the Boston port act,* New-Jersey was not hack-
ward in exprcssinir lier concurrence in tlie views
witli wliicli the leading colonies regarded this ob-
noxious measure. A meeting? of the iniiabitants
of the county of Essex was lield at Newark, on
the 11th of June; at which a committee, consisting
of Crane, Riggs, Livingston, Poartree Smitli, De
Hart, Chetwood, Ogden, and J3oudinot, was chosen
to serve as a committee of correspondence, and
to meet the committees of the other counties for
the purpose of choosing delegates to the Conti-
nental Congress. The Assembly had already, on
the 8th of February previous, appointed nine of its
own members to obtain intelligence, and to cor-
respond with the sister colonies.t

Proceedings similar to those in the county of
Essex took place throughout the colony, and
on the 23d of July, these committees, repre-
senting every county in New-Jersey, and com-
prising a majority of the members of the Assembly,!
met at New-Brunswick, and elected James Kinsey,
Livingston, John De Hart, Stephen Crane, the
chairman of the meeting, and Richard Smith,

* lOth May, 1774.

t Vid. Rivington's N. Y. Gazette for; 16th June, 1774, and
Journals Assem. of N. J.


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Online LibraryTheodore SedgwickA memoir of the life of William Livingston : member of Congress in 1774, 1775, and 1776 : delegate to the federal convention in 1787, and governor of the state of New-Jersey from 1776 to 1790 : with extracts from his correspondence, and notices of various members of his family → online text (page 10 of 27)